Well, Guss Hiddink has done it again. Can you believe it? This man (read, marvel) has yet again taken an underdog team, hopelessly under-achieving on the world stage, turned it around through a solid foundation of expectations and playing methods and then successfully cajoled them into high-performance mode to be 2 wins away from lifting the Euro08 Cup. The man is amazing, and anyone who remembers of the Socceroo’s 2006 World Cup campaign, as well as the success of the South Koreans in 2002 will know just how incredible this mans achievements are. But what makes him such a good coach?
Surely, it can’t be his tactics. There are many great coaches about, all have their own bag of tricks but sooner or later those tricks get found out. Guus has been leading underdogs towards immense success for the best part of 15-20 years now…all in highly varied cultures (Netherlands, South Korea, Australia, now Russia). The answer, as I believe it, is a methodology of coaching known simply as ‘Total Football.’
Total Football was created by the Dutch, who used the system to devastating effect in European club and international matches through-out the 1970’s and 80’s, teams in which Guus was involved. Essentially, Total Football is a way of playing that allows for each player on the pitch to cover for another player where-ever he moves. Essentially, all the players in the squad ensure the tactical roles on the pitch are always filled. The success of the system depends greatly on the technical attributes of each player on the team, and especially on their fitness. Each player on the team must be able to fill each tactical role that may be called for in a game.
‘Simple football is the most beautiful. But playing simple football is the hardest thing.”
– Johan Cruyff
I think there is a lot to learn from this particular area of the sporting world, especially where innovation comes into play. Recently, I have been in many a conversation about the validity of starting or running innovation unit’s in larger companies. There are many issues that ALWAYS seem to come up when innovation units are discussed, many of which are things like ‘Resource Allocation’ and ‘Implementation.’ To me, there is never a shortage of ideas around any company (and especially not around World Vision). But, there is always a shortage of ‘resource’ to make things happen and essentially lead the implementation of an Innovation Units best ideas. Props here to Deloitte’s Innovation , championed by Peter Williams. They’re amazing at this – best in Australia I’ve heard/seen/read of.
This is where the Guss Hiddink/Dutch philosophy of ‘Total Football’ meets the business paradigm of Innovation. To me, just as in a game of football, there will be times when a super-talented, super-freaky employee will need to launch into a new venture or project to achieve outcomes beneficial to the entire team (opps, organisation/company). There will also be times when those players will need to be covered whilst they progress up the field to score. And, at different times, these employees will need to swap roles, to bring to bear the best talent available for any particular project at any particular time.
And so come the innovation units. These units, which seem to be popping up everywhere, should contain the Guus Hiddinks of the world. The people who can train in people the techniques, abilities and ‘fitness’ to be able to take advantage of any given opportunity when it arises. You don’t see a football player take a back step when a gap opens up in an opponents defence because it’s not his place to run into it, do you? So why do we continue to believe that business is best done by people in extremely specific, role centred jobs? This just makes them harder to release forward when the time calls for it. To me, the ability to create a flexible, proactive team that can support and change quickly to match any given opportunity but still defend their own goals is one that is extremely powerful and successful.
My prediction – Gus Hiddink moves into Corporate Coaching at $$$$ an hour to teach corps Total Business. Will you be fit enough?